David Bruce: Ben Jonson’s VOLPONE: A Retelling — Act 5, Scene 3

— 5.3 —

Voltore entered the room and asked, “How are you now, my Mosca?”

Mosca sat at the desk, writing as he inventoried Volpone’s wealth. He said, “Turkish carpets, nine —”

Voltore said with approval, “Taking an inventory! That is good.”

Mosca said, “Two suits of bedding, tissue —”

Voltore interrupted, “Where’s the will? Let me read that while you take inventory.”

Some servants entered, carrying Corbaccio in a chair.

Corbaccio said, “Set me down, and all of you go home.”

The servants exited.

Voltore said, “Has he, Corbaccio, come now to trouble us!”

Mosca said, “— of cloth of gold, two more —”

Tissue of cloth of gold is high-quality cloth that has strands of gold and silver woven into it.

Corbaccio asked, “Is it done, Mosca?”

He was asking if Volpone’s will had been changed to name him as heir.

Mosca said, “Of separate velvet hangings, eight —”

Voltore said, “I like the care Mosca is taking as he makes the inventory.”

Corbaccio asked, “Didn’t you hear me?”

Corvino entered the room and said, “Ha! Has the hour of Volpone’s death come, Mosca?”

Volpone looked over the curtain and said, “Yes, now they muster.”

Corvino asked, “What are the advocate Voltore and old Corbaccio doing here?

Corbaccio asked, “What are Voltore and Corvino doing here?”

Lady Would-be entered the room and said, “Mosca! Is Volpone’s thread spun?”

She was referring to the Three Fates. Clotho spun the thread of a human’s life, Lachesis measured it, and Atropos cut the thread at the time of the human’s death.

Mosca said, “Eight chests of linen —”

Volpone looked over the curtain and said, “Oh, my fine Dame Would-be, too!”

Corvino said, “Mosca, give me the will so that I may show it to these people and get rid of them.”

Mosca said, “Six chests of linen with a diamond-shaped pattern, four of damask.”

He then picked up the will that named him as heir, and gave it to Corvino carelessly over his shoulder, saying, “There.”

Corbaccio asked, “Is that the will?”

Mosca said, “Down-beds, and bolsters —”

A bolster is a long pillow placed under other pillows as support.

Volpone looked over the curtain and said, “Splendid! Continue to be busy. Now the legacy-hunters begin to flutter! They never think of me. Look! See! See! See! How their swift eyes run over the long deed, to the name, and to the legacies, seeking what is bequeathed to them there —”

Mosca said, “Ten sets of wall hangings —”

Volpone looked over the curtain and said, “Hangings, yes, in their garters, Mosca. Now their hopes are at the last gasp.”

An insult of the time was, “Go hang yourself in your own garters!”

Voltore said, “Mosca is the heir?”

The hard-of-hearing Corbaccio asked, “What’s that?”

Volpone looked over the curtain and said, “My advocate, Voltore, is struck dumb. Look at my merchant, Corvino; he has heard of some strange storm, a ship of his has been lost, and he faints. My lady will swoon. Old glass-eyes, aka Corbaccio with his eyeglasses, has not reached his despair yet.”

Corbaccio took the will, saying, “All these others are out of hope. I am surely the man who has been named Volpone’s heir.”

Corvino asked, “But, Mosca —”

Still writing the inventory, Mosca said, “Two cabinets.”

Corvino asked, “Is this in earnest? Is this for real?”

Mosca said, “One made of ebony —”

Corvino asked, “Or are you only deluding me?”

Mosca said, “The other, made of mother of pearl.”

He looked at Corvino and said, “I am very busy. Indeed, this is a fortune that has been thrown upon me —”

He wrote as he said, “Item, one salt cellar made out of agate —”

He looked at Corvino and said, “— a fortune that has been thrown upon me without my seeking it.”

This is something that would especially hurt the legacy-hunters. They had sought the legacy and not gotten it; Mosca had not sought the legacy and had gotten it.

Lady Would-be asked, “Do you hear me, sir?”

Mosca said, “A perfumed box —”

He said to Lady Would-be, “Please stop bothering me. You see I’m busy —”

He continued, “— made of an onyx —”

Lady Would-be said, “What!”

Mosca said to all the legacy-hunters, “Tomorrow or the next day, I shall be at leisure to talk with you all.”

Corvino asked, “Is this the end result of my great expectations?”

Lady Would-be said to Mosca, “Sir, I must have a fairer answer.”

“Madam!” Mosca said. “Indeed, and you shall. Please fairly leave my house.”

She looked angry.

He added, “No, raise no tempest with your looks, but listen to me. Remember what your ladyship offered me to put you in Volpone’s will as an heir.”

Mosca was saying obliquely that she had offered him sex. Apparently, this had happened after the trial.

He added, “Go ahead, think on it. And think on what you said even the best madams did to provide for themselves, and why shouldn’t you? Enough. Go home, and treat the poor Sir Pol, your knight, well, out of fear I tell some riddles — some secrets. Go and be melancholy.”

Lady Would-be exited.

Volpone looked over the curtain and said, “Oh, my fine devil!”

Corvino said, “Mosca, I would like a word with you.”

“Lord!” Mosca said. “Won’t you take your leave from here yet? I think, of all the legacy-hunters here, you should have been the example for the others and left first. Why should you stay here? What are you thinking? What do you think you will get? Listen to me. Don’t you know that I know you are an ass, and that you would most eagerly have been a willing cuckold, if fortune would have allowed you to be? Don’t you know that I know you are declared to be a cuckold, and you are OK with it?”

He picked up various jewels as he said, “This pearl, you’ll say, was yours? That is correct. This diamond, you’ll say, was yours? I’ll not deny it, but I will say ‘Thank you.’ Much here else, you’ll say, was yours? It may be so. Why, think that these good deeds — your gifts — may help to hide your bad deeds.”

He added, “I’ll not betray you. Although you are extraordinary, and you are a cuckold only in title but not in deed, since Celia never committed adultery, it is enough. Go home. Be melancholy, too, or be insane.”

Corvino exited.

Volpone looked over the curtain and said, “Splendid Mosca! How his villainy becomes him!”

Voltore said to himself, “Certainly Mosca is deluding all these other legacy-hunters for me.”

Looking at the will, the eyeglasses-wearing Corbaccio said, “Mosca is the heir!”

Volpone looked over the curtain and said, “Oh, his four eyes have found it.”

Corbaccio said, “I am tricked, cheated, by a parasite slave.”

He said to Mosca, “Harlot, you have gulled me.”

At this time, the word “harlot” meant “rascal” when applied to a man.

“Yes, sir,” Mosca said. “I have cheated you. Stop your mouth, or I shall pull out the only tooth that is left.

“Aren’t you he, that filthy covetous wretch, with the three legs — one of them a cane — who here, in hope of prey, have, any time these past three years, snuffed about, with your most groveling nose, and would have hired me to poison my patron, sir?

“Aren’t you the man who has today in court professed the disinheriting of your son?

“Aren’t you the man who has today in court perjured yourself?

“Go home, and die, and stink. If you but croak a syllable, all comes out. Go away, and call your porters to carry you home!”

Corbaccio exited.

Mosca said, “Go. Go and stink.”

Volpone looked over the curtain and said, “Excellent varlet!”

Voltore said, “Now, my faithful Mosca, I find your loyalty —”

“Sir!” Mosca said.

“— to be sincere,” Voltore finished.

Mosca wrote on the inventory and said, “A table made of porphyry.”

He then said to Voltore, “I marvel that you’ll be thus troublesome to me.”

Volpone said, “Stop your act now. The others are gone. We are alone.”

“Why? Who are you?” Mosca said. “What! Who sent for you?”

He began to imitate Voltore: “Oh, I beg your mercy, reverend sir! In good faith, I am grieved for you that any good luck of mine should thus defeat your — I must necessarily say — most deserving travails.”

Voltore had worked very hard and suffered travails in his attempts to inherit Volpone’s wealth.

Mosca continued, “But I protest, sir, Volpone’s fortune was cast upon me, and I could almost wish to be without it except that the will of the dead must be observed.

“Indeed, my joy is that you don’t need it. You have a gift, sir — thank your education — that will never let you go without while there are men and malice to breed lawsuits. I wish I had only half the means of making a living like yours. For that, I would all give my fortune, sir!

“If I should have any lawsuits — but I hope, since things are so easy and direct and the will is so clear, I shall not — I will make bold with your obstreperous, aka noisy, aid. Please understand, sir, that I will pay your usual fee, sir.

“In the meantime, I know that you who know so much law will also have the conscience not to be covetous of what is mine.

“Good sir, I thank you for my plate — the gold plate you gave to Volpone that is now mine. It will help to set up in life a young man — me.

“Indeed, you look as if you were constipated. You had best go home and take a laxative, sir.”

Voltore exited.

Volpone came out from behind the curtain and said, “Tell him to eat a lot of lettuce; I hear it acts as a laxative.

“My witty mischief, let me embrace you. Oh, I wish that I could now transform you to a Venus!”

To Volpone, cheating people was an aphrodisiac; it made him horny.

He added, “Mosca, go, immediately get my outdoors clothing of a clarissimo — a Venetian gentleman. Now that everyone thinks that you are rich, you can wear it. Put it on, and walk on the public streets. Be seen by the legacy-hunters, and torment them some more. We must pursue, as well as plot. Who would have lost this feast? Who would have missed out on all this fun?”

“I fear doing that will lose them,” Mosca said.

He feared that any more mockery would kill the geese that had been laying golden eggs — the legacy-hunters would never again give gifts.

“Oh, my recovery shall recover all,” Volpone said optimistically. “They will find that I am still alive, and they will be as greedy as ever for my wealth.

“I wish that I could now think of some disguise that I could wear and meet them and ask them questions. How I would vex them always at every turn!”

“Sir, I can fit you,” Mosca said. “I can give you what you need.”

He was ambiguous when he said “what you need.” Volpone needed a disguise — and a comeuppance.

“Can you?” Volpone asked.

“Yes,” Mosca said. “I know one of the Commandatori, one of the police officers, sir, a man who greatly resembles you. I will immediately make him drunk and bring you his uniform.”

Volpone, who had been drinking, said, “This will be a splendid disguise, and one that is worthy of your brain! Oh, I will be a sharp pain to the legacy-hunters.”

“Sir, while in disguise, you must look for curses — the legacy-hunters will definitely curse you.”

Volpone said, “They will curse me until they burst. The fox always fares best when he is cursed.”

That is true. When the fox escapes the hunters, they curse it.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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